The Whole Child
Getting Along Together:
Developing Social Competence in Young Children
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Dos and Don'ts

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Childhood is a time for children to learn about the world-and that includes learning how to get along with others. Parents play a crucial role in helping children figure out how to form satisfying relationships and develop into socially competent people. Social competence allows children to be cooperative and generous, express their feelings, and empathize with others.

Modeling Behavior
Modeling the behavior you want to encourage is the best way to help children develop socially. Every time you say "please" or lend a helping hand, you are showing your children how you would like them to act. Ask for your children's help with daily tasks, and accept their offers of help. Look for the things your children are doing right and find opportunities to comment on them. Praise can reinforce good behavior, but it is equally important to help children recognize the sense of satisfaction that comes from within when they act on a generous impulse or get along well with others.

Sharing from the Heart
Good feelings about oneself and others is the root of social competency. Try to create a climate of kindness and generosity so that your children can help each other and begin to take responsibility for each other naturally. In this way they will begin to share "from the heart"-not just because you want them to.

Talk with your children about being generous with each other. Point out that sharing and being considerate of feelings makes other people feel happy and makes them feel good too. You can encourage acts of generosity throughout the day and be generous yourself by providing enough satisfying experiences and materials for your children. In group settings, try to let young children use toys and materials until they feel ready to pass them on to someone else. Point out when a playmate has waited a long time to have a turn. Reward generous acts with words of praise.

Empathy, the ability to imagine what another person is feeling, is a very important concept for children to understand. You can foster empathy by talking about your own feelings ("That story made me sad"); helping children express their own feelings ("How did you feel when it started to rain and we had to leave the park?"); and encouraging them to listen to other people's feelings ("Let's ask Sonia how she felt when Sparky got lost.") Responding to the needs of children who have disabilities provides excellent opportunities for children to share from the heart. Keep in mind that the kindest thing children can do is to simply include others in their play.

Children know from their own experiences that words can hurt, and that name-calling, teasing, or excluding others affects how people feel. Children want to be treated fairly, but they don't always understand how to treat others the same way. One way to teach fairness is to explain a rule to your child, pointing out that it applies to him as well as to others.

Children have the right to have their feelings and choices respected and you can model this throughout the day. Be sure to acknowledge and respect your child's feelings, never insisting that she stop crying if she is sad or say she's sorry when she isn't. At the same time, you can help her understand what may have gone wrong in the situation.

Cooperation Versus Competition
Provide plenty of opportunities for children to play together cooperatively. Play is one of the most important ways children learn how to relate to other people. As they play, young children will find cooperation less frustrating and more satisfying than competition. When children compete, only one person or team wins; everyone else loses. Children will have plenty of opportunities to express their competitive spirit later on.

You can help your children learn problem-solving skills that can be used in challenging social situations. As they interact with siblings and other peers, children can be helped to negotiate, "bargain," and compromise with each other. Most children love it when an adult has a problem and everyone is encouraged to pitch in their ideas and help solve it.

Find more tips on fostering friendships and teaching respect to children.

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